Archive for February, 2007

28
Feb
07

What I hate about the 21st century

The 21st century is now in its seventh year, and frankly, I don’t see a lot to like. Granted, I’m an avowed antiquarian, who smokes a pipe, uses a pocket watch, and prefers a fountain pen, but nonetheless I knew we were off to a bad start just by the number of morons who thought that the new millennium started in the year 2000. It’s always a bad sign when a significant portion of the population of an industrialized nation can’t even do simple math.

In no particular order here’s a list of things that are pissing me off about the new century.

Suicide bombers: Wait just a minute here, God told you to do what? Sorry pal, that wasn’t God, it was the voices in your head. About the only good thing I can say about these guys is that they can only ply their vile trade once. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of deluded souls out there who really think that God will be pleased with them for killing a bunch of innocent people.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Basically a shill for the Muslim theocracy that really runs Iran. The man says the Holocaust never happened, and then wonders why he has no credibility with the international community. And now he wants nuclear weapons. Anyone with half a brain in their head should find this absolutely chilling. Say what you want about the Cold War, in retrospect both the Americans and the Russians were the epitomes of diplomatic restraint. For all their rhetoric and saber-rattling, both sides in truth realized that blowing up the planet was a bad idea. Not so with Ahmadinejad. I really believe he would start a nuclear holocaust in the name of Allah. One way or another, he has to go. With any luck, the Israelis will do our dirty work for us like they have so many times before.

Kim Jong-il:  Essentially the same rant here as for Ahmadinejad. Except I don’t think he’s ever denied the holocaust. But he is building up his military while his people are starving to death. Another one who has to go.

Barry Bonds: Even before the steroids scandal, he was widely known as the Biggest Asshole in Baseball. Now he will probably break the home run record set by Hank Aaron, an honorable man and gifted athlete who endured painful racial slurs throughout his career but played the game the right way. The day he breaks the record, every fan in the park should stand up and turn their back. They won’t, though.

The New York Yankees: I’m a Red Sox fan. I had to get that one in here.

Britney Spears: C’mon, you KNEW I’d get to her sooner or later. It’s not that I hate her, as such. In fact, I kinda feel a little sorry for the little tart. But I hate what she represents: a whole generation of narcissistic teens and twenty somethings who seem to think that they’re entitled to get what they want, when they want it, and preferably not have to pay for it. If they don’t, the result is a temper tantrum. Naturally, teen girls idolize her, apparently without realizing that, unlike Britney, they don’t have the means of getting themselves out of the trouble that emulating her behavior will land them in. Detox costs money, girls. So do babies. So does a divorce. Furthermore, Britney, Paris, and company have turned the women’s movement completely on its ear. They now are easily the equals of men when it comes to boorish behavior. Was that the idea?

George W. Bush: Hey, I voted for the guy. Twice. And I still admire his backbone in the face of adversity. But the fact is that through his mismanagement of both the budget and the Iraq war, coupled with an arrogant refusal to listen to the advice of others, he has single handedly delivered the Congress to the Democrats. The Presidency will probably be next. And before any of you “My-President-Right-Or-Wrong” types go reaching for the hand grenades, I would offer you this little factoid to consider: the country is now being run by Nancy Pelosi, Henry Waxman, and Ted Kennedy. Happy about that? Thanks a lot, George. This, of course, brings me to my next point.

Nancy Pelosi: Just making sure I piss off everyone here. Nancy Pelosi makes Hillary Clinton look like Margaret Thatcher. A liberal in the worst sense of the word, she is the face of Nanny Government. In the world of Nancy Pelosi, I’m not allowed to smoke a cigar on the beach, but I CAN go to the nearest methadone clinic and get a free fix and syringe. In her world, my kid is not allowed to say a prayer in school, but he CAN get a free condom from the school nurse. And by the way, if I want to send that kid to college, I have to pay for it out of my pocket, while my tax dollars go to giving an illegal immigrant a scholarship. Thanks, Nancy. And thanks again, George.

Outsourcing: Tried calling customer service for Dell or Symantec lately? You get to talk to a pleasant chap with an almost undecipherable Indian accent who calls himself “Harry”. Now, believe me, I have nothing against “Harry”. Like me, he’s just a working stiff who’s trying to feed his family. I’ll bet he thinks outsourcing is a pretty nifty idea. But it seems to me that American companies that market the majority of their products to Americans, and make the majority of their money off Americans, should be employing Americans. Is this really such a radical concept?

iPods: This one will probably piss off more people than the one about George Bush, but I don’t care. To me, it’s a generational thing. Kids today seem to think they have a God Given right to be entertained 24/7, and the iPod epitomizes this in my mind. That, along with the relentless marketing which implies that you are a lower form of life if you don’t own one, makes the iPod one of the most odious inventions ever. That, and the fact that I still can’t figure out how to work mine.

Cell phones: I hate these even more iPods. If the iPod symbolizes our culture’s need for non-stop entertainment, than the cell phone symbolizes our culture’s utter abandonment of common courtesy. God forbid someone should actually put the goddamned thing down for two seconds and have a real face to face conversation with someone. The Blackberry belongs in the same rubbish bin. Which brings me to my next point:

Text messaging: I’ve actually had teens tell me that they would rather TM someone than have a real conversation, because of all those, like, awkward pauses. We are raising a generation of kids that are technologically savvy but have no real communication skills. Johnny can’t read, he can barely talk, but he sure can TM.

Nanotechnology: A nano is one millionth of a millimeter. Poison gas made with nanothechnology makes conventional gas masks useless. I don’t know very much about nanotechnology, but it scares the hell out of me. Somewhere out there someone is figuring out how to use this to create a more efficient way of killing lots of people at once. This seems like a rather high price to pay for sunscreen that doesn’t leave a white film.

Political Correctness: This is what the Nancy Pelosis of the world use to stifle free speech. Last time I checked, the First Amendment applies to everyone, not just those who are saying what you want to hear. Calling someone the “N” word is reprehensible, but pointing out the reason there are not more blacks in baseball is because most athletically gifted black youths gravitate to either football or basketball is not. People should learn the difference.

Rap “Music”: I think I hate this more than anything. Rap “music” has probably done more to contribute to the coarsening of American society than any single cultural influence. I know some will condemn me as a racist for saying this, but I do not think it is racist to deplore an “art form” that glorifies violence, misogyny, and irresponsible procreation. Rappers refer to women as “bitches” and “’ho’s”, and not only get away with it, but become stars. Yes, I know the First Amendment protects your right to rap. But it also protects my right to deplore it.

Global Warming: The thing I hate most about this issue is how it’s become completely politicized. The Liberal/Democrat types breathlessly gush about the need to save the planet. Until, of course, someone comes up with idea of planting a wind farm in their backyard. And, naturally, the Conservative/Republican types poo-poo the whole idea because they’ll be damned if they’re going to agree with anything the Liberal/Democrats say. Personally, I think there could be something to the idea, but now that it’s become a political issue, the truth will be the first casualty. In the meantime, the liberals will glom onto this one because it gives them another convenient excuse to expand the Nanny government. I have little faith that the government will be honest and forthcoming with this issue, irrespective of who’s in power. Which brings me to my final point:

The anti-smoking movement: If ever there was something that has brought the notion of Big Brother/Nanny government to full horrendous flower, it is this. Tobacco is a legal product that is enjoyed by millions, but by perpetuating the myth that even transient exposure to second hand smoke is dangerous, the anti-smoking crowd have created an environment in which I have seen my rights eroded, and seen myself degraded to basically one notch above a child molester simply because I enjoy tobacco. Yes, you heard me correctly: I enjoy smoking, as do millions of other people. I know there are risks, but that’s my problem, and my decision. You don’t want to smell the smoke emanating from my pipe? No problem. The fact is that both smokers and non-smokers could easily be accommodated. There is room in any town for smoking and smoke free establishments. But no, we can’t have that. Big Brother doesn’t like tobacco, therefore nobody can like tobacco. And now even employers are getting into the act. The Scots company recently fired an employee because he was a smoker. NOT for smoking on the job, mind you. He was fired for engaging in a legal activity on HIS OWN TIME. Just remember this: if Big Brother can take away my pipe, he can take away your little vice, too.

So there it is: my take on the 21st century. Now, without further ado, I’m going to turn off the computer, light my pipe, wind my pocket watch, and spend the next hour reading something by Arthur Conan Doyle.

–Smith

 

23
Feb
07

Chapstick

I love chapstick. Sooner or later, every Winter, there comes a day when my lips start to feel a little dry, a little sore, and I go rummaging around my top drawer for that little plastic tube with the pink, waxy stuff. It’s always the same tube as last year because, since you use so little of it, it takes longer to consume a whole tube than to read Das Kapital. And it brings instant relief.

But for me it’s a whole lot more than that. The sense of smell is mnemonically the most powerfully of the senses. Something you haven’t smelled in years can instantly recall memories you thought you’d lost forever. And the smell of chapstick sends me back to my childhood as few things can.

Not the new, flavored stuff, mind you. It has to be the original Chapstick, the one with that smells like wax. I can still remember how I felt like a big boy when my father gave me my first tube. I was maybe five or six. In those days the tube was metal, and it had one of the card suits on the side, like a diamond or a spade, presumably so you could tell yours from someone else’s. And it had that strange, waxy smell, a little like a crayon or a candle, but not exactly like either.

Today, I open the cap, apply some to my lips, and when that peculiar smell hits my nostrils, I am transported back to a wintry morning long ago. To my overwhelming joy, there’s been an overnight storm, and school has been cancelled. My sisters and I eat a hurried breakfast, and then dressed in our coats, leggings, hats, mittens, and boots (my mother always dressed us like Eskimos) we head out into the grey, wintry wonderland, dragging our sled behind us.

In those days we lived on a hill, a perfect hill for sledding. And so for hours we would ride that sled down the snow covered hill, drag it back to the top, and do it again. The sheer repetitiveness of this exercise never seemed to faze us. When we finally got bored with that, we’d build snow forts and have snowball fights with the neighborhood kids. Finally, just before four in the afternoon, with the grey light fading into dusk, my mother would call us in. We never argued, partly because by then we were numb, but mostly because four o’clock was when Sesame Street went on.

By then we’d be in dry, warm clothes, sitting in front of the TV, eating the peanut butter and crackers and drinking the hot chocolate our mother had made for us as we watched Big Bird and Cookie Monster, while a fire crackled and popped in the fireplace. When we went to bed that night we’d pray for another snowstorm.

That one smell brings me back to a time when I felt safe and happy, before I knew what anxiety, sadness and depression felt like. In this world my parents are still young, my grandparents are still alive, and there is always something fun to look forward to. For just a moment I am a child again, back in a world that I am not afraid to live in.

–Smith

19
Feb
07

Britney Krishna?

I know, I know, I shouldn’t, but I just can’t resist here. My favorite floozy, America’s Sweetheart of the Trailer Park, is at it again. This time the little strumpet showed up at a tattoo parlor with a shaved head.

Who is this girl getting career advice from, Michael Jackson? I have houseplants who generate more brainwaves than this bimbo.

Why would a girl with a voice that makes Courtney Love sound like Sarah Brightman go out of her way to trash the only thing she really has going for her, her looks? Have any brain cells survived all that partying? Compared to some of her past stunts this is mild, but honestly, what is going on here?

Does she really think the Dalai Lama look is a nifty career move? Or has she suddenly decided to join the Hare Krishnas? That won’t last long: Krishnas take a vow of chastity.

Or maybe she’s just plain fed up with all the media attention and decided the easiest way to be totally ignored is to disguise herself as Sinead O’Connor.

First the shaved hoo-hoo, now the shaved head. I can’t decide which looks worse.

You can check this out yourself by clicking here.

–Smith


15
Feb
07

This is where I draw the line

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for yours truly. Let’s see, where do I begin here? As some of you already know, my computer died (or at least went into a coma.) Then, the engine in my car blew up (with me in it). I was on the side of the road for over an hour in sub-freezing weather waiting for the tow truck. Thank God for AAA.

Everyone who drives a car should have AAA. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you don’t need it just because you have towing insurance on your car. Unless he’s desperate for a reason to like himself, your insurance agent is not going to get out of bed at two in the morning to tow your car for you.

But I digress.

To futher add to my stressful state of mind, I just found out that my son is coming back from Iraq in about two weeks. Yes, I know this is a good thing, but it also means I’m going to be on edge for the next two weeks. Anyone who has a loved one over there knows exactly what I mean.

And finally, I managed to put my foot in my mouth on someone else’s blog, for which I was roundly (and justifiably) taken to task. A lesson well learned, but one I would have rather not learned the hard way.

But I definitely reached my nadir the other day, when I was getting ready to type a letter to a customer. All of a sudden, the Microsoft Office Assistant (you know, the talking paper clip) springs up out of nowhere and starts offering to help me write my letter. This was mildly astonishing as well as annoying because I thought I had turned him off for good.

Now look, I’m a big boy (especially around the middle). I have a thick skin. I can tolerate life’s little slings and arrows. I like to think I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong, and I have no problem taking criticism from others, but let’s make one thing perfectly clear:

I am not taking any shit from a talking paper clip!!!!

There, I feel better now.

–Smith

14
Feb
07

The Dream, a Valentine’s Story

While I realize that many will be posting something special for Valentine’s Day, I have even more reason than most for acknowledging this day:  it was the day I proposed to my wife.  It was six years ago today that my beautiful wife Leslie allowed her optimism to override her common sense and agreed to be my wife.

 And so it is on this, my first Valentine’s Day as a blogger, that I wanted to share our story.  Others have found it rather romantic, and also rather improbable, and yet I swear before Heaven that every word I’m about to write is true.

 She and I first met in high school.  She was a freshman, I a junior.  I had for the past two years been friends with her sister, Kim, who was in my year.  It was the end of the first day of school, September 1978, and Kim wanted to introduce me to her little sister, Leslie.   To this day I can still remember the first time I saw her.  She was sitting at a table in the cafeteria, a little wisp of a girl with chestnut hair, very big blue eyes, and a shy smile that reminded me, for some reason, of a kitten.  I was instantly attracted to her, and she, in her own shy way, seemed to like me. 

 In those days we all hung around in the cafeteria after school, because we all came from opposite ends of a big city, and this was the most convenient way to socialize.  It should be mentioned that the cafeteria was a “modern” one, so that rather than sitting at long lunch benches, all the tables sat four people, which facilitated social contact.  Almost from the beginning, Leslie and I gravitated to each other, and we started having lunch together during the school day.  It wasn’t long before I summoned up the courage to ask her out.  She said yes, but also said she would have to ask her father.

 It’s funny how decisions made by others on seemingly inconsequential matters can so materially change the lives of others.  Her father was, to put it mildly, a gentleman of the old school, and there was no way he was going to have his youngest daughter dating an upper classman.  It seems so silly now, it seemed silly then, but to him this was a big deal, and no amount of cajoling on Leslie’s part could make him change his mind.

 Leslie was, in the quaint parlance of the day, a “nice girl”, and not one to openly defy her father (this was back in the day when teenagers still occasionally obeyed their parents.) But teenage rebellion can take many forms, and so it was with us.  We started having lunch together every day.  And as we sat there, talking about whatever it was we talked about in our exuberant youthfulness, somehow our hands always seemed to find each other.  It wasn’t as if we planned it, or even talked about it.  It was almost furtive, the way our hands always seemed to meet, at first making seemingly incidental contact.  On one day it might have been a finger brushing a finger, on another a friendly pat on the forearm, but somehow it always ended up with us holding hands as we sat together at a cafeteria table.  Lunchtime became the high point of both our days.  For forty minutes every day, she was my girlfriend.

 But of course, this couldn’t last forever.  Leslie tried on more than one occasion to change her father’s mind, but his answer was always an unyielding no.  Eventually we both came to realize that this was never going to happen.  We both ended up dating other people, but even then we never fell out of the habit of eating lunch together.  Sometimes we even still held hands.

We fell out of touch after I went to college.  I eventually heard she had moved north of the city, while I stayed more or less in the area, and spent twelve years in an unhappy, loveless marriage, which eventually ended in divorce. 

 This was easily the low point in my life.  All alone for the first time in twelve years, I tried dating, but found it a frustrating and miserable experience.  Of course, I wasn’t exactly a little ray of sunshine at that time either, so I’m sure the women I dated found me rather depressing company.  But whatever the reason, the dating thing just wasn’t working, and I eventually came to the conclusion that I really didn’t want a girlfriend anyway.

 Have you ever had a dream that was so vivid and powerful that you never forget it?  Like most people, I forget most of my dreams as soon as I’m awake, and yet every so often I have one that stays with me for the rest of my life.  These dreams are different, more powerful, so real that when I awake I almost feel physically different, as if I’ve just returned from a journey.  One night, having not seen or even thought about her for years, I had such a dream about Leslie.

 I dreamed that I was walking down a forest path.  I saw someone walking up the path towards me.  With a thrill that I could physically feel, I recognized Leslie, and she recognized me.  We walked towards each other a little faster, and when we met she hugged me tight.  Even though it was a dream, I can still feel the warmth of that hug to this day.  We never said a word to each other, but simply held hands, and walked down the path together.  It had been so long since I had felt happy that I had forgotten what it felt like.  At that moment, for the first time in years, I felt truly happy.

 And then I woke up.  For a second or two I continued to bask in the glow of that happy feeling, but then, with a letdown that felt like a punch to the gut, I realized that it had been only a dream.  Even though it had only been a dream, it had been so real, felt so real, that I felt like I had really lost something.  I was in a miserable mood for days after that.

 One week later, to the day, I had to appear in court to wrap up my divorce.  There, I bumped into her brother, whom I hadn’t seen in years.  In high school he had never been a particular crony of mine, but we had always been on good terms.  We made small talk for a few minutes, and then I asked him how Leslie was doing.  To my astonishment, it turned out she was back in town, having herself just concluded a divorce.  He gladly gave me her phone number and suggested I call her.

 I couldn’t believe how, just for once, something seemed to be going my way.  I had never thought to see her again, and yet if I could have chosen one person from my past that I could have wished back into my life, I would have chosen her without a moment’s hesitation.  And here she was, by some miracle, a mere telephone call away. 

But what if it didn’t work out?  Twenty years is a long time.  I had certainly changed, and not necessarily for the better.  I was older, fatter, and far more morose.  She, too, might have changed.  Maybe it was best to leave the past alone, to preserve the memory of who she had once been, rather than find out to my dismay that time had been as unkind to her as it had been to me.  I almost threw the number away, but the memory of that dream was so powerful that it created in me an overwhelming desire to see her again, even if it was only once.

So I called.  “Hi, Leslie, it’s me, Stephen”.

“Stephen, who?”  Not exactly the response I had hoped for.  Fighting down the urge to say, sorry wrong number, I said,

 “Stephen Smith. From high school?  Remember me?”  From the silence at other end, I could tell she did.  And then I heard a small, quiet voice, saying,

 “Oh, my God.”

 We must have chatted for about an hour on the phone.  I asked her out to dinner, and this time there was no one to tell her she couldn’t go.  We sat over dinner, chatting away as if no time had passed at all.  And suddenly I realized that, without even noticing how it happened, we were holding hands again.

 This is my Valentine’s Day gift to her.  She is my best friend, soul mate, and life companion.  I can honestly say that I love her more than I have ever loved another human being in my entire life.  My dream was prophetic.  Was it a coincidence that I should dream about her one week before she came back into my life, or was it something more?  I don’t know, but we are indeed walking down the path of life together.

 And we still hold hands, at every opportunity.

 

–Smith

08
Feb
07

Tomorrow Won’t Remember, a poem

How like a wound is an open grave
Cut sharp into the wet green earth
Gaping as it waits to swallow the casket
That hovers above reflecting
The comfortless morning sunlight.
The bereaved flock to the graveside
Like a murmuration of starlings,
Listening to the incantation of the shaman
In the desperate hope there is a soul to be saved.
Trying to understand the ineffable fragility of life,
Trying to accept that the departed have gone,
Trying to believe they ever were.
Staring in uncomprehending desolation
At the dark oblivion that waits
At the shadowy bottom of that fresh wound in the earth.

–Stephen P. Smith

05
Feb
07

Just a joke…

Nothing very profound here. Just a joke I heard that I wanted to share…

An old woman was walking on a windswept beach with her young grandson, who was no more than three. Suddenly, a huge wave came up unexpectedly and swept the little boy out to sea. Horror struck, the woman raised her eyes to Heaven, crying, “God, how could you do this to me? I thought you were a kind, loving, merciful God! If this is true, please, give me back my grandson, or I will stop believing in you forever!”

Sure enough, another wave hit the beach, carrying the little boy with it. Overjoyed, the old woman again raised her eyes to Heaven, saying “Thank you, God! I knew you were truly great and merciful!” She looked down at her grandson and, raising her eyes to Heaven a third time, added, “Hey! He had a hat!”

–Smith

05
Feb
07

5000 hits? Woop-de-frickin’-doo!!

5000 hits? Who reads this stuff, anyway? Well, I suppose I couldn’t let this momentous occasion go by without some acknowledgment. I mean, sure, some people have more hits in their spam catcher, but what the hell. If 5,000 people were misguided enough to check out this blog, I suppose they deserve some recognition.

But all in all, this has been worthwhile. I have rediscovered a part of me that I thought had died, only to find that it was just flabby from disuse. Evidently, judging from the comments of some kind souls, every so often I can still crank out something worth reading.

An unexpected result of blogging has been that I’ve become more interested in the creative process itself. I find that I’m fascinated listening to others describe how they create their art, be it literature or music. There is a great post here on Smoke & Mirrors, courtesy of my dear friend and learned colleague, Mr. Murphy, in which he describes his own creative process. I was intrigued when I read how having a writing instrument in hand facilitates his own creative process.

Oddly, I’m just the opposite. I do most of my composing in my head. (This used to be called “talking to myself”, but now that I’m a hot-shot blogger I get to call it “composing”). By the time I sit down to type, most of what I want to say is already in place. Once it’s on the screen, I then begin the process of revising, and granted, I do a lot of that (not enough, I can hear them saying).

This is not to say that either way is necessarily “better” than the other. It’s just that he and I are different, our minds work in different ways, and we approach our writing differently. Both methods, I believe, produce quality prose.

So my thanks to all who were kind enough to visit me here in my own little corner of cyberspace. Hopefully you took something away with you worth keeping.

–Smith




taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood" ~ Dr. John H. Watson ************************
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